Friday, October 14, 2011

The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein

  Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein is a nice little short story collection, though a bit inconsistent. These are reprints of some of his stories from the pulps, and he includes a short dissertation on the nature of science fiction, writing, and the future in his introduction, called Pandora's Box. I can see some of the roots of what I consider to be the essential elements of good writing described here - I always thought I'd come up with them on my own. Ah well. In this essay, Heinlein gives some of his predictions for what the future will be like in 50 years, and he was writing in 1966, so at this point one can tell how well he did as a prognosticator.

  1. Interplanetary travel is waiting at your front door. Nowhere even close.
  2. Contraception and control of disease is revising relations between sexes to an extent that will change our entire social and economic structure. Nailed it.
  3. The most important military fact of this century is that there is no way to repel an attack from outer space. See #1.
  4. It is utterly impossible that the United States will start a "preventive war." ROFL.
  5. ...the housing shortage will be solved...Still with us.
  6. We'll all be getting hungry by and by. We'll all be getting obese, more likely in the U.S.
  7. The cult of the phony in art will disappear. What an impossible dream.
  8. ...psychoanalysis will be replaced by 'operational psychology' based on measurement and prediction. Naw.
  9. Cancer, the common cold, and tooth decay will all be conquered. Unfortunately, no.
  10. ...mankind will have explored the solar system, and the first ship to reach the nearest star will be abuilding. Sadly, our spacefaring days may be over.
  11. Your personal telephone will be small enough to carry in your handbag. Wow! He had no idea.
He lists a few more, but nothing of consequence.

The first story, Free Men, is about the resistance movement in the U.S. after invasion by an undescribed foreign power. It ends abruptly and inconclusively, as if perhaps there was a larger story in mind never got around to penning. The only thing recognizable is the quote "You can't enslave a free man, the most you can do is kill him."

Blowups Happen is the story of how scientists deal with the difficult problem of keeping an atomic power plant running, when it could turn into an atomic bomb at any time, and when the entire economy of our nation depends on its continued operation. A little technical, yet hokey.

Searchlight is a cute short short about locating and rescuing a little girl - a piano prodigy - when her ship crashes on the Moon, using music.

Life-Line is the story of how Dr. Hugo Pinero discovers a scientific method to determine the date and hour of a man's death. This understandably upsets the life insurance companies, and begins a legal battle to prohibit him from doing business. Heinlein has some interesting things to say about the scientific method.

Solution Unsatisfactory might be regarded as an allegory, of sorts. It's a story in an alternate history, where the atomic bomb was never invented, and the path to a super weapon went a different direction, creating a radioactive dust which kills wholesale, and against which there is no effective defense. Some of this is about the "road not taken" by the U.S. after WWII, when we dropped the atomic bomb, but failed to anticipate the future proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the danger which they now pose when acquired by rogue states. Very thought provoking.

As I said, a bit inconsistent, but still a good read.

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